Fans noticed something different about Encore: Styles didn’t end up with his usual close, “Kiwi”; Instead, they opted to end the night with a second performance of their new single “As It Was”, their dance-through-the-tears pandemic reflection on separation and change. When he played it, the crowd exploded in a way Styles had never experienced. This shook him a bit.

“We came off the stage, and I walked into my dressing room and just wanted to sit alone for a minute,” he tells me two months later. “After One Direction, I never expected to experience anything new. I was like, ‘Okay, I see how crazy this can be.’ And I think there was something about it where I was… not intimidated, but I just needed a minute. Because I wasn’t sure what it was. That energy just felt crazy.”

At 28, Styles has opened up a whole new level of stardom for himself. Years ago, he filled stadiums regularly as a member of his former boy band One Direction. This spring and summer, he’s playing them on his own. “As It Was” has become their biggest song of all time, setting a streaming record and topping the charts in more than two dozen countries, including straight to the U.S. Get attached to him as much more than a pretty teen idol.

(I don’t need to lay down decades of music history to show just how wrong that is.) But he may be turning the tide in curious ways. “‘As It Was’ is definitely the highest amount of men that I would stop to say something about,” he notes. “It seems like an odd comment because it’s not like men were the target. It’s something I noticed.”

Before their headlining set at Coachella in April, I caught Harry backstage, surrounded by James Corden, Styles’ onstage guest Shania Twain, and his girlfriend, Olivia Wilde. Later, I attended sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium in New York and London. It was impossible to ignore Styles’ immense love—you see it in every fan’s face, whether they’ve been supporting him for “one year, two years, five years, 12 years,” as they almost every end.

Say- off-show thank you speech. Along the way I heard him everywhere, even when I wasn’t trying. “As it was” was played in every cab. “Watermelon Sugar” Breakfast Soundtrack. “Golden” lurked quietly in a London drugstore. “Late Night Talking” exploded in a Brooklyn bar, causing one person to declare, “I love Harry Styles. I can accept that,” as if it was a radical act of self-acceptance.

And while that could be everywhere in 2022, at this point, Styles is literally sitting in front of me, on a sweaty June afternoon, in a chair in a hotel business suite in Hamburg, Germany. After taking a dip in the Irish Sea this morning, he flew to the city and is now enjoying a day off in the middle of his first European tour since 2018.

Personally, Styles looks like your best friend’s cute, sporty big brother, and not a gender-bending style icon. She’s left the boa and sequin jumpsuit in the dressing room instead of a blue Adidas track jacket, gym shorts and Gucci sneakers. His hair, often described as “tousled” as if he is a renegade prince in a romance novel, is cut back with a hair claw, a signature day-off accessory.

Styles is a kind of millennial anomaly: He plugs his phone across the room, never taking a look for a rogue notification. He maintains eye contact as his thoughts often unfold in slow, British drawl. He’s a little more Zen than before, even stubborn; That goofy, class-clown energy when he first made love to the world 12 years ago in One Direction naturally subsided.

But she’s still as friendly and charming as ever, remembering the details of the little things that happened in all the other towns where I (professionally) followed her, and proved to be eerily curious about what happened. How am I going to spend my time in Hamburg and how magazine deadlines work. (Back in New York, after surprising fans at a Spotify event for his new album, he asked me my thoughts on David Crosby’s most recent album, which he loved.)

“My great uncle lives here,” Styles says of Hamburg. “He married a German woman, so I have a German cousin. When I was a kid they would always come and go, and the only word [cousin] in English knew was ‘lemonade’. I didn’t know whether she really wanted lemonade or was trying to say ‘Please give me some water!’ ,

Of course it didn’t take him that long to get back to places like Hamburg, where he would play last night at the local football stadium Volksparkstadion to over 50,000 fans. The Love on Tour, the name of his current track, was due to launch in the spring of 2020, a few months after Styles released his second album, Fine Line. what happened next we all know.

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